How and Where to Start Decluttering Your Home (even when you feel overwhelmed by all you need to do)
by Susan McCarthy
If you have traits of ADHD or you struggle with your organizational skills, you may feel stuck trying to figure out where to start decluttering. Learn how to choose the area that will make the biggest difference in your life.
Probably the most often asked question I get about decluttering is – where do I start? There’s no easy answer. Do you look at how areas are used (or how you are unable to use the rooms and spaces in your home)? Or do you focus on the emotional ramifications of dysfunctional spaces? Should you work here there and everywhere or focus on one room at a time?
And is there a best place to begin? Some professional organizers start with your clothing while others recommend the living room. If you start in the “wrong” place does that affect the results you get?
Let’s face it, when you’ll potentially be working eight-to-twelve hours in a room (and this is a very general approximation), you’ll have plenty of opportunities when you want to swing over to something else.
And that’s the neurotypical experience. If you have ADHD or are otherwise challenged by your organizational skills, going from point A to B without a detour to giraffe, blue, and pickle can make decluttering even more challenging. But don't worry, it can be done!
If You Have Traits of ADHD, Is Decluttering Worth the Bother?
Yes. The rewards can be exponential because decluttering and organizing your home isn’t just about making your home look neat. Getting organized should make your home and life function better.
Decluttering isn't just about cleaning your home. It's about gaining control and making your home function better.
So, if you want to post photos on Instagram of your progress, great. But your goal in becoming organized shouldn’t be a home that resembles staged pictures. You want a home that helps you live your life and do the things you want to do.
Decluttering and organizing your home are very much worth the effort of doing that work.
How Long Does Will It Take to Declutter Your House?
The moment you decide that you’re ready to declutter, chances are that you want it done! But even impulsivity and a burst of enthusiasm will only take you so far.
Thinking you will be able to declutter an entire room in an evening may be true ... or may be a gross underestimation. You might delay starting your decluttering project because you think it will take too long.
If you think it will get done quickly (and it doesn't), you may feel as if you are doing something wrong.
While I can't tell you exactly how long it will take to sort through your stuff in a room, the factors affect the pace you can declutter, include –
How much stuff do you have? If you’re squeezing along pathways in some or many of your rooms because of all the stuff you hold onto, decluttering will take longer than it will for someone who needs to figure out where to store things piled on the dining table and kitchen counters.
How much time you can give to decluttering? Most people think that they need to clear their calendar for a day, weekend, or entire week, so they can do nothing but declutter.
But (1) it can be difficult to block off that kind of time and (2) it’s difficult to stay focused on a task that feels boring and never-ending.
(And the temptation to reward yourself with a break or to “reinvigorate” your attention by switching to another task, can be more of a detour than an energy booster.)
How quickly you can make decisions? Instead of focusing on what you will declutter, turn your attention to what is important to keep. What things will help you live the life you want to live?
Also, look for decisions that make multiple decisions. For example, you realize that although you used to ski all winter, your life has changed, and this is no longer a priority. In fact, you haven’t gone skiing once in a decade. You realize that you’d rather have the space in your home than continue holding onto these things just because they were once important to you.
This decision means that you can declutter ski equipment, clothing and gear, books and magazines on the topic, and even tchotchkes you’d bought or received as gifts connected to skiing (figurines, plaques, etc.)
How often do you purchase new things? If you buy new bedding and donate the old items, you haven’t decluttered, you’ve redecorated. You haven’t reduced what you own. Maintaining order will always involve keeping a balance – get a new book, get rid of an old book. That doesn’t mean that you’ll be forever decluttering.
Swapping in a new item for an old one makes you a more mindful consumer. Do you need those shoes that are on sale because they’ll replace a worn-out pair?
So, Can You Declutter More Quickly?
Possibly. You can’t control how much stuff you are starting with … but the good news is that each bag of trash or donatable items that you remove from your home leaves you with less stuff.
As for the time you can give to decluttering, your best bet is to put decluttering sessions on your calendar, so they get done. You’ll be less likely to say, “Meh, I’d rather stay here on the couch,” if a notification pops up on your phone … and an alarm goes off, for good measure.
See, it’s consistency that will make a bigger difference to your home than trying to physically move faster.
You can also work faster by making some advanced decisions. One decision answers multiple, “What do I do with this?” questions.
Examples of decisions that cover multiple smaller decisions –
As you can see, one decision means you can declutter multiple items without any extra thought.
And, of course, limit shopping so you aren’t bringing new items in as quickly as the old items are leaving.
Quick Start – First Step to Declutter Your Home
Trying to declutter every room in your home at once can leave you feeling as if nothing is getting done because your efforts will be stretched thinly across your entire home.
However, with ADHD’s impulsivity and focus issues, you may get bored working in one room. You can use this quick start to see some results everywhere … but then you want to turn your attention to one room at a time once you’ve gained momentum.
For this quick start, you’ll grab a trash bag and move quickly around each room collecting any obvious trash (or recycling) that’s out in the open. If you have to question if it’s trash, leave it there to deal with when you declutter the room.
This step can clear a quick layer of stuff from your home. You could even do multiple rounds.
If you find yourself opening drawers, cabinets, or closets looking for trash, that’s a sign you’re ready to focus on one room.
How to Start Decluttering When You Need to Declutter Everywhere in Your Home
If you want to see results, you want to devote your efforts to one room at a time. But which room is the “best” to start in?
Some organizers insist that you start in your closet or your living room or your bedroom. But that might not be your priority. And thinking you have to follow someone else’s system to declutter can lead you to procrastination!
Instead, let’s focus on your needs.
Clear an annoyance. Is there a room in your home where the disorganization is affecting your life? For example, maybe you’re always running late because you can’t find the things you need to take with you. Your entryway, or the area near the door you enter and leave by, is so messy that you have no space to set things like your keys, purse, coat, and anything else you need to take with you.
Decluttering that space first could transform your mornings and leave you feeling less stressed and bothered.
If you can’t locate important papers, then getting rid of the papers you don’t need may be the place to start.
So, ask yourself, which room in your home really annoys you and is detrimental to your peace of mind?
Support a goal. Maybe no single space stands out as a problem. The next thing to consider is if you need support in reaching another goal you have for your life. For example, you want to exercise more, cook more meals at home, go back to school, or even start a business.
Is the space where you’ll do these activities supportive of your goal? For example, if you want to cook more meals at home but your counters are cluttered which makes setting down a cutting board to chop veggies downright impossible, you want to start decluttering that room.
You’ll see success decluttering and meeting the other goal you have for your life.
Just start. What if you’re still thinking, everywhere is equally important. If no room stands out as demanding your attention or benefitting your life by clearing the clutter, then it doesn’t matter where you start.
And if that thought doesn’t have you thinking, “but I should really declutter [this room]” then you can start anywhere. You need a more organized home and decluttering will help get you there. Choosing a room and sticking with it will make a difference.
After you declutter one space, you could reevaluate and determine if there is a space that, if organized, would benefit your life. If no answer jumps out at you, just choose another room.
Haven’t Started? How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Decluttering
Maybe trying to decide where to start decluttering has been a delay tactic. You’re concerned about doing this project the “right way.” But there is no right way.
If you are nervous about decluttering, start small. Choose a small room, like the bathroom, or a small storage space like the pantry or cleaning cabinet. These won’t take much time to do, so you won’t be stuck facing the equivalent of a full day’s work.
And with the examples I gave you, you can make a big difference simply clearing out expired products and containers with forgotten small quantities.
The best way to learn to declutter is by taking action instead of reading endless articles. You’ll learn what matters to you as you sort through your possession. And making decisions about your stuff will make you more comfortable with choosing what to keep and what to let go of.
Decluttering clears away unnecessary items so you can better use and display the things that are important to you. This can save you time, money, and stress. You won’t waste time looking for misplaced items. You won’t buy duplicates of things you have “somewhere” in your home. And you won’t be running frantically through your home trying to find your keys, wallet, sneakers, or home insurance policy.
No matter where you start, a few factors come into play as for how long it will take to declutter –
So, where should you start decluttering?
Look for space that, if organized, would improve your life in some way.
Declutter a space to support another goal you have in your life.
And if no room stands out as more important than another, it doesn’t matter where you start.
Neil Fiore, author of The Now Habit, reminds us to focus on starting as opposed to finishing a project. Each time you start decluttering a room in your home, you move closer to finishing that project and moving onto the next.
So, start decluttering today. Whether you declutter one bag of trash or one item, you are making progress.
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Hi, I'm Susan
I'm a former teacher who became a professional organizer (and not because I'm a natural-born neatnik). I live with my husband and fluffy cat on a river in Massachusetts. I crochet, make handmade cards, and love reading young adult novels. Learn more about my decluttering journey here.